For our September-October edition Village has been in the United States, with several correspondents reporting on the upcoming Presidential election. The US is one of the most comfortable places to live, or visit, so this was not a chore for your correspondents. Nevertheless, as they have reported, the US is in trouble. It has a 16 trillion dollar debt – enough to frighten a Founding Father into the arms of the Tea Party, or beefy Mr Ryan. It emits around a fifth of global greenhouse emissions, though its population is no more than one twentieth of the world’s. In 2010 the US poverty rate rose to 15.1%, from 12.5% in 2007, the highest level since 1993; and the richest 1% of households increased their share of total income from 16.9% in 2002 to 19.8% in 2010. The US has profound economic, environmental and social problems of the sort that in the long term bring down even the most far-reaching empires.
President Obama inherited a policy viper’s nest from the irresponsible Mr Bush but, despite much biblical rhetoric, has had little luck in pioneering progressive legislation. His stimulus package was scattergun, his healthcare legislation is not keeping costs down and may be reversed, and he has done nothing to curb climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions. He has done serious damage to optimism in politics, failed to bring about change we could believe in or advance an agenda rooted in hope . No, he could not. The cynicism that only those who do not know what is going on, can avoid, has spawned the quasi-idealistic Tea Party and Occupy movements. Much of the problem of course derives from a recalcitrant Congress, but Obama has not used his bully pulpit enough to argue for fairness and sustainability.
For a country that has more self-confidence than any society in history it is remarkable how the US treats its debt-driven relative decline and its debauched carbon emissions as taboos. All Republican presidential candidates deny humans’ role in climate change and as moderate chair of the Republican Leadership Council, Christine Todd Whitman, interviewed in the current edition, acknowledges, Americans will not comtemplate measures that prejudice, in any way, the American Way, the American Dream. If you were advising Americans this is where you would need to start you would.
Voters must make a decision between Mr Obama and Mr Romney. It’s easy to mock, though perhaps less so for an electorate that may be faced next time out with a choice between Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams.
The West, led by delinquent Europe, is in decline. China and India will be setting the paradigms of the next century. It is not clear what they will take from the American legacy. Perhaps freedom to pursue happiness with a certain heedlessness to the consequences or the long term will prove to have been a political and cultural detour.
Village, which can’t even say who deserves a vote in Ireland, would not presume to advise the great American voting public which way to cast on November 4th. It is of§ten forgotten that there is a libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson , and a Green candidate, Jill Stein. For Village any appeal of libertarianism is confined to paper, in a complex and unequal world. On the other hand, the Green agenda should not be forgotten and is more relevant to America’s ubiquitous improvidence – but although in 2000 Ralph Nader got 3% of the vote for the Greens, Ms Stein is registering scarcely a blip.
Obama certainly offers more than Romney. Perhaps if he has a clear run home and a better-disposed Congress he will use his rhetoric as a template for action, rather than an independent, obfuscating universe. Perhaps not. Mr Romney’s policies on equality and the environment, two staples for Village, are base and we cannot wish him well politically.
The only solace is that, thankfully, neither candidate seems, for the moment, to have expansionist policy ambitions.
Reeling from where democracy has left Ireland a cynical Village, tired with Martin Luther King phraseology and unimpressable with rhetoric about giving kids a more prosperous future, advises America to vote away. Above all enjoy your comforts, your quality of life, the freedom to pursue your famous Dream. They won’t last.